Ostro, by Lay Llamas
Suggested by Stuart Emerson
Every now and then, an album’s score becomes a called shot in the comments.
It rankles me, a little. Someone will drop a well-meaning pre-listen note, something along the lines of “Ah, more plinky plonky, Craig will hate this album, 3/10 for sure!” and I’ll feel my hackles tingle. First, I enjoy going into an album blind if possible, and I abhor spoilers in all forms. But second – and this is much more important – I hate to be thought of as predictable.
Let’s take Ostro, by Lay Llamas. In the comments today, before my listen, I read the following:
“I am optimistic of a high 4 – it isn’t as freeform as some of the pleasant plinky plonky tracks.”
On reading this, I’m instantly coloured to the content. And I’m almost rabidly determined to score this as anything but a four.
I fire it up. Things start badly. Ancient People of the Stars with a full minute of atonal buzzing and modem sounds, punctuated by wind chimes. On the strength of this, I muse, this album will be lucky to get ONE, never mind four. Thankfully, it picks up with a pulsing hypnotic bassline, before kicking me in the balls with some bongo nonsense. However, over the full almost-six minutes of this opening track does swell and build, so it’s a low six at this stage.
The second track, We Are You, again starts with an unassuming shrug. My patience thins further when the bloody bongos return, but as each element is introduced to the swelling sound I become drawn to the musical narrative until it becomes my favourite song. The understated vocals have an almost Floydian feel, and the whole thing is rather Gorillaz-adjacent, but as I’m enjoying it I’m still looking at my watch.
The remaining tracks are wildly similar in execution, each embarking with a simple refrain from a single instrument and layering seemingly disconnected sounds over the top to help build and draw the thing together. Sometimes it works, as I’ve mentioned above, but mostly it doesn’t. Both Desert of Lost Souls and Archaic Revival, at seven and nine minutes respectively, fail to leave the staring blocks and are content to wander around without any particular destination in mind. And some of the interspersing shorter tracks are the definition of one idea spread far too thin, like a low-fi trancecore version of 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.
So how do I score Ostro, in the end? Depressingly, it is 4/10. I tried my best to like it, to buck the trend and prove the public wrong, but I have to stay true to my heart and tell it like it is. There were some highlights, but they were drawn out, repetitive and tiresome.
It seems the commenters are correct, and I am wholly predictable. And, of course, any irritation I may feel is fleeting, far outweighed by the joy of our daily interaction, so keep your comments coming.
Now, the one remaining question is this: would the album have scored a 4/10 if I hadn’t read it in the comments?